16 December 2022

Homeless to head chef: Five minutes with smoked-meat king Erin Strickland

| Oliver Jacques
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Chef Erin Strickland with staff

Erin Strickland with his staff Mandeep Singh Punia, Rajdeep Kaur Punia and Navraj Kaur. Photo: Oliver Jacques.

Griffith Leagues Club head chef Erin Strickland has had an astonishing life – from living on the streets as a teenager to partying at a beachfront restaurant with rock band U2 to raising kids as a single dad while running one of the biggest eateries in the Riverina.

“When I was 15, I was homeless, hanging out in Kings Cross,” he said. “We had this building we would break into with a Paddle Pop stick. We’d pop the lock, go up to the roof and sleep next to the air-conditioning vent that threw out the hot air.

“Word got out that I was a good kid that shouldn’t be on the street. A chef came along and offered me the chance to start an apprenticeship on Oxford Street. That saved my life. I came from a family of addiction and could have easily followed that path.”

Erin moved to the Riverina 11 years ago to be closer to his children, quickly gaining a reputation as the king of smoked meat. For a time, he ran the legendary Yenda steakhouse Three Brothers, famous for gigantic burgers with 1 kg worth of patties and Saturday night slow-cooked barbecues.

Erin Strickland

Erin Strickland before a shift. Photo: Oliver Jacques.

“Cooking has allowed me to do so many amazing things. I’ve lived on islands, worked on boats going up and down the Barrier Reef, had beachfront kitchens in Noosa, run motels, I’ve hitchhiked through the desert … and found a job in the pub of a small town of eight people.”

Erin also gives talks for Rotary, explaining his life story, how he overcame addiction himself and what it takes to succeed.

“After a recent talk I gave, someone told me I’d just saved a young girl’s life. They said, ‘She turned her life around listening to you’. That makes it worthwhile.”

Erin now runs what he calls “the most modern kitchen in Griffith” with an army of Indian-origin cooks eagerly learning from the master. Region caught up with Erin for our regular “five-minute” profiles.

READ ALSO Harry Lal opens Riverina’s first Punjabi-themed restaurant in Griffith

Who is Erin Strickland? A single dad, aged 54, who has been cooking for 39 years. Now the head chef at Griffith Leagues Club.

Best recent dining experience: A scoop of ice cream at La Scala. I took my kids and we got the toasted-almond gelato.

Favourite cuisine: Steak. I love a wood-fire cut of meat. I have my scotch fillet medium rare and my rump or porterhouse blue. I even have a steak tattooed on my arm.

Steak tattoo

Erin Strickland’s steak tattoo. Photo: Oliver Jacques.

Most embarrassing pantry item: Mushroom pilze. It’s an essence that you drop into dishes like risotto to enhance the mushroom flavour. It’s actually really good.

What ingredient can you not live without? Sea salt.

Best coffee spot in Riverina: Coffee on Bridge. Jodie Turner does an amazing job.

Next big thing in the Riverina food scene: More diversity of cuisine. I’d love to see more Lebanese and Middle Eastern restaurants. Or Vietnamese.

A must-try on our menu: The pork ribs. They are slow-cooked for 24 hours.

My biggest culinary influence: Francis Mallmann, a trailblazing Argentine chef who reinvented cooking over fire.

Favourite cookbook: Seven Fires by Francis Mallmann.

Who I admire in the Riverina food and wine scene: Lorraine and Sam from Yarran Wines, the Burtons from Burton Wines and Luke Piccolo of Limone.

READ MORE Five minutes with Luke Piccolo of Limone Dining in Griffith

What are this week’s specials? Poke bowl, a Hawaiian dish with raw fish. And our oysters, our seafood is very fresh.

Plate of seafood

Fresh seafood is a highlight at Griffith Leagues Club. Photo: Supplied.

Death-row meal: A 2 kg ribeye steak slow-cooked.

My least-favourite food: Blue cheese.

My COVID-19 response: I went to the snow and worked. It was tough. We got very few customers and the business owner barely survived.

My top-three cooking tips: 1. Use the freshest ingredients you can. 2. Buy the best meat you can afford, even if that means buying less of it. 3. Ask older people in the community for their tips.

Griffith Leagues Club is open from 3 pm – 10 pm Wednesday to Friday, 12 pm – close on Saturday and 1 pm – close on Sunday. You can find out more on their website.

Original Article published by Oliver Jacques on Region Riverina.

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